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Lawsuit alleges 'pattern' of legal misconduct

Southampton Town Police Department in Hampton Bays. (May

Southampton Town Police Department in Hampton Bays. (May 17, 2012) Credit: Randee Daddona

One of the first men to be released from prison last year as part of the Suffolk district attorney's investigation of the Southampton Town Police Department has filed suit against the town, the county and their police departments, alleging a "pattern of law enforcement improprieties and misconduct."

Bernard Cooks, who was released from prison last May amid Suffolk District Attorney Thomas Spota's probe of the town police department, alleges false arrest, malicious prosecution and civil-rights violations in the suit filed May 21 in State Supreme Court in Riverhead.

Cooks was one of four men arrested in a drug raid in North Sea in January 2011 by the Southampton Town Police Department's Street Crime unit. All four -- Kwame Opoku, Karron Whidbee, Nathaniel Cooper and Cooks -- had their convictions overturned. Opoku has filed suit in federal court, and Cooper has filed notice he intends to sue.

In all, seven convictions resulting from street crime unit arrests have been vacated in the past year after the revelation that street crime unit officer Eric Sickles had been addicted to prescription drugs at the time of the arrests. Sickles was treated and recently returned to the force.

The Cooks suit, which also names the Suffolk DA's office as a defendant, contends the Sag Harbor resident's arrest and prosecution were "condoned by" Suffolk police and the district attorney, as well as the town and its police department, by "ignoring a pattern of law enforcement improprieties and misconduct in order to secure a conviction."

Cooks' suit comes less than a month after Mohammed Proctor, who previously pleaded guilty to drug charges but was released from prison last year amid the probe, saw a judge in federal court dismiss his civil suit against the town and police.

William Ferris, a lawyer for Cooks, declined to comment.

The suit claims Cooks was "falsely accused" of criminal possession of a controlled substance in the fifth and fourth degree and imprisoned "without probable or reasonable cause."

Sue Menu, the attorney who defended Cooks against the criminal charges, said one memorable element of the case was that she was never shown a copy of the search warrant that resulted in the men's arrest.

"I asked for it and they never produced it," she said Tuesday.

Newsday has filed a Freedom of Information Law request for the document. It was denied because the case was sealed following the dismissal of charges, Southampton police said.

Town Attorney Tiffany Scarlato said, "The town will defend against Mr. Cooks' allegation in the same way it will defend against all others" related to Spota's review. The Proctor case was dismissed, she noted, and was "brought under similar circumstances with similar allegations."

As of March, the latest numbers available Tuesday night, the town had spent $45,000 on outside counsel in cases related to police department arrests that were dismissed, Scarlato said.

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